The following is a story of what happens when a congregation asks: “What can we do to help?” — and the community answers. Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church in Happy Valley, Oregon hosted a “Fentanyl Awareness Fair” on July 23 after seeing a need and deciding to actively work to meet it. The resource fair was a partnership between Beautiful Savior, Need 4 Narcan, and members of the community. The whole point of this event was to raise awareness and learn about treatment and prevention for a problem that is tearing through the community. John Durkin, Beautiful Savior’s Director of Family Ministry, was instrumental in putting the event together. He offered his perspective on how that all happened.
‘I need to be aware of the issues affecting this community’
In the end of April 2022, I received an email from my son’s school that mentioned an online event called, “Fake & Fatal What Parents and Teens Need to Know.”
It was scheduled for May 4 from 7 – 8:30 p.m. I serve as an SMP Pastor, and my specific area of ministry is family ministry. I have been serving as a DCE in the LCMS for over 23 years, and I didn’t really know much about Fentanyl. Small problem – Wednesday nights are the same time we host youth group. I just moved here from Washington, DC in July 2021, and if I want to better understand my community, I need to be aware of the issues affecting this community. I got some help to cover youth group, and what I learned that night on the Zoom seminar really moved me to help.
I heard personal testimonies from parents that had lost children due to opioid addiction. I learned about the manmade product Fentanyl, which can be 100 times stronger than morphine and 50 times stronger than heroin. This drug is super addictive because of the potency; as a result, drug dealers are putting Fentanyl into all kinds of pills. The DEA has seized Fentanyl in the form of Tylenol, antidepressants, ADD medication, and laced in Marijuana. The amount of powdered Fentanyl to cause an overdose is about the size Abe Lincoln’s chin on a penny (2 mg). The most tragic aspect of this epidemic is that people are dying in an instant. There is no more “safe” drug experimentation. One pill can kill (learn more at: www.dea.gov/onepill). Earlier this month, the Oregon Health Authority announced that drug overdose deaths more than doubled last year due to Fentanyl misuse, and they believe that trend will continue.
‘How can faith communities help out?’
After participating in the online seminar, I asked a question in the chat box, “How can faith communities help out?” Gail from the non-profit group Need 4 Narcan emailed me that night and told me she would see if she could get her hands on some doses of Narcan for our church. Narcan is the name brand of the drug Naloxone, which is the nasal spray one can administer to someone that is unresponsive from a drug overdose. We have placed emergency doses of Narcan in our narthex right next to our first aid kit and our AED machine. In my opinion they work in a similar way. These resources are used in emergency situations to bring people back to life. They aren’t a cure, which is why we decided to have a resource fair.
‘How can your church be a catalyst to make a difference in your community?’
Gail Simmons and Michelle Stroh were instrumental in bringing all kinds of groups together for our July 23 pop-up tent event. We had both secular and Christian residential and outpatient treatment groups, mental health services of Oregon, 211, CPR/First Aid – We even had resources to meet physical needs (clothing and hygiene products) and spiritual needs (prayer wall and people to pray with).
That Saturday afternoon we were able to hand out 150 Narcan kits and resource bags, but I believe the greatest victory was seeing these groups coming together to raise awareness and get to know each other. What’s next? Continue to get the story out and educate the communities we serve. It’s a beautiful thing when Christian people can be on the front lines lowering the stigma surrounding addiction issues. It is equally beautiful when we open our doors to support people struggling with mental and spiritual issues. God calls us to love the Lord and love our neighbors. We do this because we are faithful, and we know what it feels like to be accepted and forgiven even though we struggle with sin. How can your church be a catalyst to make a difference in your community?